These Long Islanders go over-the-top on indoor holiday décor, and admit it - Newsday

2022-05-14 11:55:45 By : Ms. Lucy Zhou

Decorating for the holidays is a national pastime and a drive around Long Island this time of year is a brilliantly lit eyeful. But what goes on outside homes — the lights, the sleighs, the reindeer — sometimes pales compared to holiday decorating inside. It’s individualistic, often meaningful and occasionally over-the-top.

Why do people do it? "I think a lot of holiday decorating is born of nostalgia … because it recalls memories of childhood and family," says Hadley Keller, the digital director of House Beautiful. "Plus," she adds, "for the past few years, I think we've all been driven to find more joy in our surroundings at home, leading to an upped ante with holiday decorating — a phenomenon we dubbed ‘Christmaximalism.’ "

Walter Dworkin, 77, of Westbury, is a major holiday decorator himself and an expert on vintage holiday collectibles who has written a book on the subject. "Tradition is a key word," he says. People do it, "for the enjoyment of passing on traditions from one holiday to the next. It’s an escape from our busy, hectic lives and an inviting way to share nice memories and happiness."

Speaking of inviting and sharing, three Long Islanders welcomed us into their homes to see their takes on going a-l-l out for the holiday and told us their stories. Fa-la-la-la indeed.

Get ready for the weekend with our picks on where to shop, dine and have fun on Long Island.

By clicking Sign up, you agree to our privacy policy.

It was 1991 when Gonzalez, a salvage yard owner, purchased his first Hallmark ornament at a card shop in Whitestone: a tiny top hat that was a nod to his interest in magic tricks. Thirty years later, he has more than 600 ornaments exclusively from the brand and they’ve spilled over onto a second tree. "Am I obsessed with them?," he asks rhetorically. "Yeah, I’m obsessed. They’re absolutely miniature versions of my life."

The variety is astounding. Included in the eye-popping mix that ranges in price from $7-$50, is everything from GI Joes, Peanuts characters, light-up games like Operation, Legos, Tonka toys, Easy Bake Ovens, Hot Wheels, Barbie Dolls, even, a replica of the Titanic. This season there’s a new favorite: An elaborate scene depicting Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (Batman and Robin) getting a call on the Bat Phone and transitioning to the Bat Cave backed by the theme music from the show. "The detail is incredible," says Gonzalez.

Eugene Gonzalez decorates his Christmas tree with his Hallmark ornament collection in Smithtown. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Working it: Setup is a bit of an issue. Stored in big Tupperware containers under beds and in the garage, it takes days for Gonzalez to unpack and decorate the now two trees. "Everybody is on fire when I first start," he says referring to his wife and three kids. "Then little by little, I’m all alone." And he has a system. "The newest ones go on the tree first — they’re all fresh and I keep those centered. After that he says, "I don’t just throw them on the tree, I keep each series close to each other."

Why he does it: "For myself, it’s about nostalgia. So many of the ornaments are miniature things from growing up, the games I played the things I loved as a kid." He also enjoys the reactions the tree evokes. "People are stupefied and dumbfounded when they see it." Says his wife Mabel, "It’s a big tradition in our family. Everybody comes to see what’s on the Hallmark tree and what’s next. Uncle Gene’s tree is the big attraction for relatives." And it’s rather emotional for her as well. "It’s our whole marriage, about our children’s childhood. It’s beautiful."

Tell Dingwall, the principal at the Dryden Street School in Westbury, that she’s very creative when it comes to holiday décor, and she’ll respond, "You mean crazy. I absolutely love Christmas, and I decorate everything including the bathrooms and chandeliers." She calls herself, "the Christmas hoarder."

Particularly of note is her very large collection of Santa Clauses, (literally and figuratively — one of them is six feet tall and sings) most of them Black, which she started collecting about 18 years ago. "I remember not seeing Black Santa Clauses growing up and it was only after I was an adult I could find them." Why Santa? "When you look at Santa, you see happiness and hope. Children tell Santa their wishes and it’s a feeling of love and a dream."

Gloria Dingwall and Leighton Dingwall in front of Gloria's Santa display at their home in Manorville. Credit: Morgan Campbell

It takes a village: Dingwall estimates she has about 120 bins of labeled holiday décor stored in her basement, shed and garage where she had a carpenter install special shelves to house them. It’s a family project with husband Leighton, a son and a strapping grandson (one of six grandchildren) helping out. It takes almost a month to get the job done. Her Santas usually hold court in one area of the house while angels flutter in another and the garland, ribbons and ornaments are e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

Why she does it: Dingwall began bedazzling her home during sad times — after 9/11 and a short while later, the passing of her mother. "I decided that I had to make the house a happy house. And it worked." The family has hosted huge holiday gatherings in the past — at one point having 140 people in to celebrate with friends chartering a bus to attend the festivities. She says, "Nothing pleases me more than the holiday and seeing the joy that it brings my family, friends and me."

Who: Jo-Ellen Hazan, 66, Sands Point

The staircase at the home of Jo-Ellen and Ira Hazan is always sweeping and dramatic, but come the Christmas holiday, well, it’s nuts … as in nutcrackers. For about two decades, Jo-Ellen has been collecting nutcrackers of every variety, and size: Statues of Liberty, "Wizard of Oz" characters, a ballerina, golfers, a fisherman and even a Hanukkah nutcracker, (both for her husband — an avid fisherman who is Jewish). She says, "When I see a nutcracker, I say to myself, ‘No I don’t need one more,’ but then I get it. Nutcrackers are like a magnet for me."

Jo-Ellen Hazan, 66, has a collection of nutcrackers which she lines up and down the sweeping center staircase of her home in Sands Point. Credit: Corey Sipkin

The set up: Each season, Jo-Ellen carefully unwraps her nutcrackers which have been packed away in the attic. "I’m like ‘oh yeah’ I remember this one’ and I’m glad to see them. It brings back the feeling of when my kids were little," she says of her two adult sons. "I place them and then I sit at the bottom and look up the stairs and move them around a lot. I try to mix them up by size — a big one first, a small one next."

Why she does it: "I’m obsessed with holiday decorating, but it’s a good obsession," she says. When people visit, "it puts a smile on their face. They say, "Oh my God, how long has it taken you to collect these? I feel accomplished, happy and joyful." And she explains, "My mother always said to keep tradition and have stopgaps otherwise life can just roll one day to the next. I’ve taken that to the nth level."

Privacy Policy |Terms of service |Subscription terms |Your ad choices |Cookie Settings |California Privacy Rights |About Us |Contact Newsday |Reprints & permissions |Advertise with Newsday |Help

Copyright ©2022 Newsday. All rights reserved.